Smoking rates in Australia have risen by over 21,000 to 2.4 million between 2013 and 2016. “For the first time ever, there has been no statistically significant reduction in the smoking rate, and an increase in the number of smokers in Australia,” said Colin Mendelsohn, an expert in public health at the University of New South Wales whilst pointing out that for the first time, the smoking rates in Australia have exceeded those in the US. “This is despite plain packaging and the most expensive cigarette prices in the world.” A packet of cigarettes in Australia costs an average of $25.10, while in the UK it would cost $14.80 and $8.50 in the US.
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The public health expert who is an advocate for the use of e-cigarettes for harm reduction, pointed out that clearly the “punitive and coercive” approach that the country has adopted, is not working. The data was obtained from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Current strategies are clearly not working
Mendelsohn said that plain packaging and tax increases have been more effective on the younger generation, but not so much on seasoned smokers. “But we’re left with established, older smokers who can’t or won’t quit. The strategy of higher prices isn’t working for them,” he said, whilst pointing out that the very expensive prices have also led to a booming black market.
Alex Wodak, director of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, agrees with Mendelsohn “Australia is doing everything right in terms of tobacco control, but one key difference with the UK and USA, where smoking rates have dropped, is our hostility to e-cigarettes,” he said.
Inline with what Wodak has said, data from the US and the UK clearly indicates that since the advent of e-cigarettes, smoking rates have been steadily on the decline. In Fact, the UK which fully endorses the products for smoking cessation, is now boasting the lowest smoking rates ever recorded since the 70’s, and the second lowest rates in Europe.
Time to rethink the nicotine ban
Australian doctors, amongst which Mendelsohn and Wodak, and psychiatrists have long been urging local lawmakers to lift current nicotine ban. E-cigarette devices are legal on the island, but using nicotine-containing refills is not. In August 2016, many public health activists, amongst which the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA), had submitted proposals to local regulator Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), to remove nicotine concentrations of below 3.6% from the Poisons Standard. Their argument was that nicotine containing e-cigarettes hold a lot of potential if used for smoking cessation, and at best are excellent harm reduction tools. These unfortunate figures will hopefully make their voices heard.
More info : The Australian